November 08, 2021. Dear Kids– These recipes were inspired by your childhood eating habits of hardly touching your soup whenever we had a family favorite that Gramps called “American Pizza”- a combination of grilled cheese and tomato soup. Back in Gramps’ day, it was Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup and Kraft Singles in between Wonder Bread for me, but I would make homemade tomato soup, with an upgrade for the bread and cheese for your childhood years. I noticed you still largely ignore the soup over a decade later, using it more as a dip, and that’s when the lightbulb went off to make the soup a dip and come up with a few other fun grilled cheese and soup dip combos- just wish I thought of it sooner.
Along with Gramps’ American Pizza, there is the “French Double Dip” and the “Green Piece”. The “French Double Dip” is a grilled Swiss cheese and caramelized onion sandwich with onion soup dip- a vegetarian version of the classic French Dip, the grilled roast beef and cheese sandwich served with a side of beef jus for dipping. It’s my favorite of the three- the best part of French Onion Soup in a sandwich, with a flavorful onion soup accent. The “Green Piece” takes its inspiration from the ubiquitous fast casual, Broccoli and Cheddar Soups out there that often have the cheddar and broccoli taking a back seat to the cream, but the Green Piece has the cheddar front and center in the sandwich and the broccoli even more so in the soup.
The technique for each of the sandwiches and each of the soups is similar, so I tried to simplify, and hopefully not confuse matters, with a central recipe for each that you can use by adding in the ingredients for whichever sandwich and soup combination you want to make. There’s also a game changing, easy oven bake technique for “grilling” your cheese in The Lecture. So take a look at it all and make whatever combo you like or make all three like I did for a Chessy Stick and Souper Dip Party Platter.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
GET YOUR STUFF OUT
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 medium onion, minced
- kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
- pinch or two of red pepper flakes, optional
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/4 cup dry sherry, optional
- vegetable broth- 2 cups for French Double Dip or Green Piece or 1 cup for American Pizza- and a bit more to smooth out soup
- vegetables- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes for American Pizza, 1 cup of French Revolutionary Onions for French Double Dip or 12 ounces frozen broccoli for Green Piece
- finishing touches, Green Piece only- 1 cup baby spinach, 2 tablespoons grated parmesan or nutritional yeast and 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 8 slices of amazing bread- I used “English Muffin Bread” and it was amazing- big too
- 2-3 tablespoons softened cow or plant butter or mayonnaise
- 8-12 ounces cheese, or more, if you like cheese like a Dad- mozzarella cheese for American Pizza, Swiss/Gruyere cheese for French Double Dip or cheddar cheese for Green Piece
- 1 cup of French Revolutionary Onions for French Double Dip
COOK AND PLAY
Play “Superman” by Lazlo Banes, the theme song of one of my favorite T.V. shows, “Scrubs”, (maybe watch and episode while you’re cooking), as you make your sticks and dip.
1. Souper Time. Preheat oil in medium pot over medium heat and then saute onion, with a few pinches of salt and pepper, to golden brown, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, if using, for a minute, add sherry, if using and cook down for a few minutes. Add broth, scrape any tasty brown onion bits from bottom of the pan and add vegetable for soup of your choosing. Let soup simmer for 5 minutes or so and, if you’re making the Green Piece, broccoli soup, stir in the finishing touches to simmer one more minute. Let soup cool for a bit and then carefully pour everything into a blender. Vent blender for steam to escape and to prevent Blender Bomb, by covering top of blender that has cap removed with paper or kitchen towel (careful the soup steam is hot coming up through towel so keep hands away and hold towel along side of blender) and process until smooth, adding more broth to adjust consistency to your desired dip texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep soup warm until serving.
2. Grill That Cheese. If you’re good, you can make your grilled cheese while your’e making your soup, but no pressure from me on this. Cover one side of each slice of bread with butter, top four slice, butter side down, evenly with cheese (2-3 ounces per slice) and onions for French Double Dip and cover cheese with remaining slices, butter side up. Cook sandwiches in frying or saute pan over medium heat or in the oven (See Lecture for Oven Technique), cooking on both sides until bread is a lovely golden brown.
3. Stick & Dip Time. Cool grilled cheese on wire rack to set for a few minutes and then cut into 1 inch wide sticks- you can even trim off the crust before you cut up the sticks for a better presentation or to celebrate your inner child. Pour soup into ramekin or small bowl and place in the middle of a plate, surrounded by grilled cheese sticks.
Soup Talk. Tomato Soup. When you taste your American Pizza tomato soup to season for salt and pepper, also taste to see if it needs sweetness or acid- stir in a bit of brown sugar, a little at a time, for sweetness as you like or a bit of red wine vinegar. a little at a time, for acid as you like. Season with sweetness or acid very carefully, as too much can ruin a good soup. Onion Soup. To make a very easy, fast and good version of onion soup for the French Double Dip, all you need to do is mix up 2 teaspoons of “Better Than Bouillon Sauteed Onion” base in 2 cups of simmering water and you’ll have your French Double Dip soup dip- easy peasy! Broccoli Soup. You can enhance the broccoli flavor by adding it to the pot and cooking it down with the onion for 15 minutes or so before you add the garlic, red pepper and the broth and continue with recipe. Don’t worry how “not green” it looks, the spinach will give it a nice green color in the end.
Anatomy of a Grilled Cheese. Bread. While I have a soft spot in my heart for Wonder Bread, you really want better bread for making grilled cheese. My current favorite is the magical English Muffin Bread I’ve recently come across in the Good Bread section of supermarkets. It’s firm, holds up well to toasting and, of course, has all those legendary “nooks and crannies” to take hold of your cheesy and buttery goodness. I also like sourdough, which some advise against for fear of cheese oozing out of the holes while your toasting your sandwich, but I love it when the cheese oozes out and gets all crispy, crunchy and tasty. The Golden Ticket. You need to pick a spreadable fat to turn your bread golden, the most popular being cow butter, plant butter or mayonnaise. Butter adds some nice flavor, but burns more easily and takes time to soften and mayonnaise is a trendy choice that’s very spreadable and less likely to burn, but I favor “Country Crock Plant Butter”, which I think offers a bit of flavor and quick spreadability. I’ve even been known to sprinkle grated cheese (grated on large holes of a box grater) on the buttered side of my sandwiches to get a crispy, crunchy, cheesy coating on the sandwich. The Big Cheese. Of course, you need some good cheese and you don’t have to break the budget to get it. I suggest a good melting cheese, which are typically softer and younger cheeses then firmer, aged cheese; the more common being mozzarella, fontina, Gruyere, provolone, gouda and even American. If you were to use a milder melting cheese, like mozzarella or American (perhaps not even technically a cheese, more of a cheese potion), it’s good to add one of the other, more flavorful cheese to help it out. There’s also the question of how much cheese is too little or too much (“Can you really have too much cheese?”, asked the Dad). The recipes I looked at allocate 1-2 ounces of cheese per sandwich, but the English Muffin bread I used was larger than your standard bread and, since I like cheese, I was closer to the 3-4 ounce range. So take this into consideration and add the cheese that suits your bread and tastes the best. Add Ins. Cheese is certainly enough for its eponymously named grilled cheese, but sometimes it’s nice to add a little something else, like the caramelized onions in the French Double Dip. I often add a favorite pizza toppings, like thinly sliced pepperoni, in the American Pizza grilled cheese. You kids always liked some thinly sliced apples in your grilled cheese and that, or some sauteed mushrooms, would go nicely with the cheddar grilled cheese. So leave it all cheese or try whatever you think would go well with the cheese and/or soup dip- it’s up to you.
Pan vs. Baking Tray. This is a game changer if you ask me. I have so many more kitchen pans, gadgets and firepower than most and even I don’t have a pan big enough to comfortably “grill” four cheese sandwiches, but I do, and you should have, a sheet pan big enough. I was skeptical of making grilled cheese in the oven when I first looked into it, but after some “testing”, I think it is the only way to go if you’re making grilled cheese for more than two. The “Middle Rack, Two Step, Bake & Broil” technique completely melts the cheese, no matter how thick you like it, and the broiler (electric- not tested on gas) provides for even browning on each side of the sandwich. To do this- set up a middle rack and preheat your oven to 450°. Place your buttered sandwiches on a baking tray large enough to hold them in a single layer and bake until they start to brown on top, about 10 minutes. Turn oven broiler to high, keeping sandwiches on middle rack, and broil to top side is evenly golden brown (just a few minutes and don’t look away or risk getting burned). Use oven mitts to pull out rack to flip sandwiches with spatula to brown on other side (again, just a few minutes and don’t look away or risk getting burned).
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